[Updated January 28, 2019]
Our primary goal with food reviews is to help make you aware of the many characteristics of dog food that can affect your dog – to use an industry term, how well the food will “perform” for your dog. His specific needs, and your needs, should dictate what foods you select. What would be the point of us identifying the 10 foods we think are “best” if you can’t afford most of them, your dog can’t tolerate some of them, and the rest contain far too much fat for your dog?
The companies that appear on our “Approved Foods” list offer products that meet our basic selection criteria: they contain good ingredients, they don’t contain any “red flag” ingredients, and their makers are reasonably transparent about their manufacturing and formulation. This list is a start – meant to give you examples of companies with better-quality products than those found in grocery and big-box stores, and lower-end pet supply stores. The list purposely contains products that range in quality and cost, from “wildly expensive” to “not cheap.” Inexpensive foods will not meet our selection criteria, because it’s impossible to make a low-cost food that contains superior ingredients.
We’d love for you to take our selection criteria into account as a starting place – only that, though, because there are a lot of other factors that people take into consideration when buying food for their dogs, and everyone will weigh these factors differently, depending on their individual needs and beliefs. If we made up a pie chart illustrating the weight of these factors, each dog owner’s “important food buying factors” chart would be different, and each would be valid. So to help you further understand what we mean, we did create some pie charts!
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Dog Food In Stores
Cost – How much can you afford? How many dogs do you have? What size dogs?
Availability – Do you shop locally only, or are you willing to drive some distance? Is the food you like available online?
Ingredient factors – Are you considering only those foods with grain, or grain-free? Are there ingredients your dog can’t handle because of allergies or intolerance? Does your dog need a “novel” protein or carb source?
Nutritional factors – Are you looking for a food that has a specific amount of protein, fat, and/or certain “added-benefit” nutrients (such as glucosamine, DHA, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.)?
Performance – Your dog likes it and does well on it, with good coat, stool, and energy; and no itching or excessive gas.
Marketing – Did the company win your over with persuasive advertising, or a particularly attractive label?
Company transparency – If you call the company, does a human answer the phone? Can you be immediately connected with a knowledgeable customer service representative? Can the company readily provide you with nutritional analyses of its products? Does the company readily disclose its manufacturing sites and ingredient sources?
Company reputation – People have different levels of comfort regarding past offenses. Are you comfortable knowing that the company that makes your dog’s food had a recall last year? What if it had a recall five years ago? What if there have been no recalls, but you hear persistent rumors of company misdeeds? Taking this from another angle, some people distrust the largest companies, the corporate behemoths; others have greater concerns about small, “seat of the pants” companies owned by individuals with eclectic backgrounds.
WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns
“I have two large dogs, and, frequently, a litter of foster puppies, so cost matters; I can’t afford to feed all of them the most expensive food. I look for foods that have higher than average levels of protein and fat. My dogs’ response to the food is critical; if it makes them gassy or develop diarrhea, I won’t buy it again. The company’s transparency is important to me; a company is out of my consideration if I call them with a question and there are no humans answering the phone, no customer service representive is available to answer my question, or the representative can’t or won’t provide the information I ask for.”
Owner of two West Highland White Terriers; had a dog die of suspected melamine poisoning in 2007
“The company’s reputation and transparency are most important to me. I won’t buy food from a company who has ever had a product recalled or has been involved in a lawsuit. My dogs are small and don’t eat much, so as long as they do well on the food, I will buy it, no matter how much it costs. They don’t like foods with fish or lamb in them – and I have to make sure the food doesn’t contain too much copper, because Westies are prone to copper toxicosis.”
Owner of five Labrador Retrievers, lives 45 miles from closest place to buy food
“With so many big dogs, cost is an important factor. If I can’t buy the food in my town, forget it; it’s not worth the hassle. Of course, the food has to suit my dogs; I hunt with them, and they need to stay healthy, energetic, and at a good weight, even in the harshest winter.”